AUSTIN, Minn. – Hormel Foods Corp. (HRL) has a message for a Seattle software company: Stop, in the name of Spam!
The canned-meat company filed two legal challenges with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to try to stop SpamArrest (search) from using the decades-old name Spam, for which it holds the trademark.
SpamArrest, which specializes in blocking junk e-mail or "spam," filed papers to trademark its corporate name early this year. Hormel then sent the company a warning to drop the word "Spam." SpamArrest refused.
"If you ask most people on the street, they're going to say junk e-mail as opposed to the luncheon meat as their first description of what spam is. I think they're overstepping their bounds," said Brian Cartmell, SpamArrest's chief executive.
Cartmell says his company's use of the word has nothing to do with Hormel's product, first produced in 1937. Hormel officials disagree, arguing that the company has carefully protected and invested in the brand name, and that the public could confuse the meat product with the technology company. It filed its challenges in late June.
Hormel acknowledges that its brand name has taken on new meaning, and it outlines on its Web site what it considers acceptable uses of the word.
It says it doesn't object when "spam" is used to describe unsolicited commercial e-mail, but it does object when pictures of its product are used in association with the e-mail term.
Douglas Wood, who practices intellectual property law in New York, estimates Hormel has only a 50-50 chance of prevailing. He points to a recent case involving Victoria's Secret and a male adult novelty shop called Victor's Secret (search). Victoria's Secret sued, using the trademark infringement argument. But Wood says ultimately the company lost in court.
"The court in that case was saying, even though they may have a famous mark, Victoria's Secret, and may have a particular association as soon as you hear it, Victor's Secret was not enough — the confusion or potential damage to their mark — to constitute infringement," Wood said.
The case will be heard by the Trademark Trial and Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., probably next year.